Quay County Sun - Serving the High Plains

A haunting question


October 9, 2019

Ron Warnick

Tucumcari Historical Museum director Paula Neese stands Thursday in the corner of a room where visitors have felt an unexplained presence. A paranormal investigative team from Amarillo will be at the museum as part of a Saturday fundraiser to restore the museum's F-100 jet.

A few weeks before Halloween, a paranormal investigation team from Amarillo will come Saturday night to the Tucumcari Historical Museum to see whether it's haunted and help a cause at the same time.

Museum director Paula Neese doesn't need much persuasion about that possibility. She said she and visitors at the museum have heard or seen strange happenings in various spots of the 1903 building that once was Central School.

The investigation by Buried Secrets Paranormal also will serve as a fundraiser to help restore the retired F-100 fighter jet on the museum's grounds. Up to two dozen people will pay $20 apiece to watch the Buried Secrets team do its work from 6 to 10 p.m. Saturday.

Karen Alarcon of KTNM/KQAY radio in Tucumcari and a museum board member came up with the paranormal/fundraiser idea. She said she did live broadcasts at the circa-1872 St. James Hotel in Cimarron for several years when a paranormal team investigated it. The spirits of Wild West outlaws or lawmen slain at the Lambert Inn reputedly haunts the site, which later became the St. James Hotel.

"It was a lot of fun," she said of those broadcasts.

Alarcon said Wednesday that 18 people were confirmed to attend the Saturday night event. The maximum number organizers will accept will be about 24. She said she still will take reservations this week at (575) 461-1400 in case someone who planned to attend cancels.

Neese said visitors over the years have felt a presence in parts of the museum. A man in the basement told her he felt a something on the back of his neck. Other visitors have felt a presence in a corner of the first floor where old photograph portraits and a tuxedo are displayed. Others have reported something touching their hair or brushing up against them.

Neese herself has heard sudden, unexplained noises in the building.

"I know there is activity here," Neese said, "but I've never been bothered by them."

Neese said a Brandi Bird Brothers, a paranormal investigator from Utah, twice has visited the museum with equipment. Neese said the ghost is benevolent, and she's been told it likes to spend time playing with toys and dishes in the museum's first-floor quilt room. Neese said her terrier, Cooper, sometimes gets excited and "greets" the presence in the room when she opens the museum in the morning.

Brothers stated in an email she believed the ghost to be 16-year-old Mary Elizabeth Warner of Tucumcari, who died in 1920. Brothers said she wasn't able to find details about her death in the newspapers of the time, but she noted several outbreaks of pneumonia occurred that year.

"She really likes the place," Brothers stated in an email about the ghost in the museum. "She feels like it's a safe place and she likes all the neat things to look at there."

Brothers also stated he believes the ghost "likes the people there and she means no harm."

Brothers stated she initially believed the ghost's name to be Sarah Beth, but a subsequent visit to the museum and the cemetery confirmed it was Mary Elizabeth.

Neese and others first believed the girl had died when a 1.65-million-gallon water tank burst in the early morning hours of Dec. 13, 1951, leveling at least a city block on Tucumcari's west side and killing four people. Reports by the Tucumcari Daily News at the time show no person named Sarah Beth and no girl of that age died in the disaster.

Observers of paranormal activity say hauntings often occur where people have died. The Central School building served as a hospital in 1936 and 1937, so it's likely at least a few deaths occurred there.

Melody Hughes, founder of Buried Secrets Paranormal, said in a telephone interview about eight members of her team will bring equipment that will include audio recorders, full-spectrum video cameras and electromagnetic field detectors to the museum over a two-day period. They also will do research on the site and conduct interviews.

Buried Secrets has conducted eight to 10 "major" paranormal investigations annually since 2008, though Hughes said her interest in it goes back to the late 1960s.

Most scientists are skeptical of the existence of ghosts, mostly because the evidence to support them is so scant.

And Hughes acknowledges her team sometimes comes up empty with its efforts.

"Not everything is paranormal that goes bump in the night," she said. "Sometimes we go to disprove the paranormal."

On the other hand, Hughes said she has documented instances where an image of full-body apparition was captured, and audio and video anomalies were detected.

"We've had some experiences that were so unusual, they even surprised me," she said.


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